What Guitar Strings Did The Beatles Use?

The history and music of the Fab Four

What Guitar Strings Did The Beatles Use?

Postby (anonymous) » Thu Apr 04, 2002 6:27 am

There have been many questions asked with respect to the type of guitar strings used by the Beatles. Flat wounds come to mind by many, however, the biting and bending of strings argues against the used of flat wounds in the exclusive sense. Information from Chris Huston has indicated that he personally put Gibson Sonomatics on Lennon's 1958 325 Capri when the bigsby was installed.

A quote of George Harrison from Foster(1997) has also been revealing. In reference to the early days Harrison said Quote:There weren't any light gauge strings around. We always had heavy gauge and by Take 20 it was pretty hard on the fingers.

With the advent of newer technology and the bending heard in lead breaks it is likely that there were lighter gauge round wounds on the scene as well. I am looking for references that clearly speak to the type or gauge of strings used by the Beatles.
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Postby (larrywassgren) » Tue Apr 22, 2003 4:47 pm

In the November 1987, Guitar Player interview George Harrison states, 'I realized somewhere down the line, I was playing these Gretsch guitars through these Vox amps, and in retrospect they sounded so puny. It was before we had the unwound third string, that syndrome, and because it was always done in a rush and you didn't have a chance to do a second take, we just hadn't developed sounds on our side of the water'. First of all we realize George was a very modest person and he was a great guitarist! Secondly, he was a huge fan of the early American rockers like Buddy Holly and he could have been a bit frustrated as he wasn't getting that Fender Stratocaster tone you can only get through an old tweed amp. Of course we loved that Gretsch/Rickenbacker/Vox tone of the British Invasion. Back to strings, from what I've read The Beatles and all the Mersey groups had access to round-wound strings and I believe they would have preferred them if they had a choice. But working musicians wouldn't always have the opportunity(or cash) when a string broke to replace the whole set or even chose between round or flat. They would replace broken strings one at a time with whatever was available. In the book, 17 Watts by Mo Foster, Albert Lee explains: "About a year before(Cochran and Eddy toured England) word had got around the way US players were stringing their axes, Duane Eddy and Eddie Cochran had told of how players would buy a regular set of strings and an extra first or light banjo string, move them over one and throw away the bottom string. This opened up a whole new world to us". Eddie Cochran was due to appear on a major show at Liverpool Stadium on May 3, 1960 with Gene Vincent, but was killed in a car accident on April 17, 1960 in England. So as early as possibly '59 some British guitar players were aware of light gauge strings. I think The Beatles would have been 'in the know' when it came to light gauge strings(and round wound strings) as early as '60-61. But being working musicians they probably didn't have the cash or opportunity to use them too often until they became huge. I guess it's anybodies guess as to when, where or what guitars they were using round-wounds on!
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Postby (admin) » Tue Apr 22, 2003 5:52 pm

Good points Larry. In 1964 we did the same thing. Buy an A banjo string and use it for the high E and then move the standard strings down one, just as you said. The low E's were tossed. The idea likely came from the US at the time. It is likely the Beatles came upon this technique as well. The Comment from Chris Huston that he strung Lennon's Model 325 with round wound Sonomatics certainly illustrates your point about round wounds.
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Postby (grsnovi) » Tue Apr 22, 2003 6:00 pm

We all know that Paul nicked a piano string or two in a pinch for his bass. Not sure what brand (or which string... ;-)
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Postby (admin) » Thu Apr 24, 2003 8:06 am

Gary: I wonder to what extent Paulie was really involved with this practice, especially as he played piano for the group as well on occasion.

Larry: In pondering the extent to which Harrison might have used lighter gauge strings, I am reminded of his many takes in the studio trying to get the Baby's In Black riff right. Martin asked him at one point if he was sure he wanted to use this riff. Harrison persisted and we know the outcome.

My point here is, the Baby's In Black riff is much better accomplished by bending lighter gauge strings than using a heavier set with a Bigsby. Perhaps the lighter gauge strings didn't emerge in the Beatles until somewhat later on in their recording.
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Postby (larrywassgren) » Thu Apr 24, 2003 6:06 pm

That's a good point and it sure would have been easier to do the Baby's In Black riff with a set of round-wound 10's. But the tone on that track sounds like flat-wounds. I've often wondered if George ever changed strings on his Tennessean. I played a Tennessean in my band for four years in high school and never changed the factory flat-wound strings. They don't wear out! Of course George was more into his guitars than Paul or John and can be seen changing the 360/12 O.S. and Country Gentleman strings in photos so I suppose the Tennessean must have had the strings changed. George was a big Chet Atkins fan and maybe his Gretsch's were left with flat-wounds because that's what Chet used? I would think certainly by the time they got their '65 Casinos John and George would be using round-wounds on those because that's what came on them from the factory.
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Postby (ricnvolved) » Thu Apr 24, 2003 9:01 pm

I remember reading a brief article somewhere a few years ago that The Beatles, at least while they were doing their thing in Hamburg, used Pyramid strings. Whether that's accurate, I have no way of knowing. But it would make sense as I'm guessing that Pyramids would be readily available in a city as large as Hamburg. Does anyone else have any knowledge concerning The Beatles' use of Pyramid strings during that time?
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Postby (jeff) » Fri Apr 25, 2003 2:53 am

I've also read in a number of books and articles that The Beatles used Pyramid strings during their "Hamburg days".
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Postby (admin) » Fri Apr 25, 2003 2:57 am

Jeff: Can you recall the source? I have also read this in the past but can't seem to locate it now.
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Postby (jeff) » Fri Apr 25, 2003 3:06 am

It's in "Beatles Gear" and I remember an article in Guitar Player (can't remember the issue) several years back in one of their Beatles special issues back around the time when the Anthology came out that Pyramid strings were mentioned. Sorry I don't have more details Peter, but I'm posting from my place of business right now.
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Postby (larrywassgren) » Fri Apr 25, 2003 7:15 am

I asked my friend Johnny Guitar, who played with Rory Storm And The Hurricanes, what kind of strings they used back then and without hesitation he said 'Cathedral and Hofner'. They played at all the same places in Germany and Merseyside as The Beatles in the same period so I think his answer is a good indicator. I believe these were both flat-wound strings. I don't think the name Pyramid was used back then as you can ask any old Scouser and they won't know the name. But, I have heard that Hofner strings were made at the same factory that today makes Pyramid strings.
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Postby (admin) » Fri Apr 25, 2003 8:03 am

Larry: Thanks. I have, in the past, asked Chris Huston of the Undertakers and Ray Ennis of the Swinging Blue Jeans, who both indicated that Gibson Sonomatic strings were used by at least some members of their respective groups. It would seem then at Gibson Sonomatics, Cathedral and Hofner strings were on the scene and one can only suppose that the Beatles used any or all of these makes.

As a guitarist, how many makes have you tried? I am going to assume, many. I think it is safe to say that they used a range of strings. It will be interesting to see how many makes we can come up with.
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Postby (larrywassgren) » Sat Apr 26, 2003 5:47 am

Yes, I would say Hofner, Cathedral and Gibson Sonomatics were used by The Beatles and those other great Merseybeat groups. The choice would probably be whatever was cheapest at Hessy's, although for the special occasion of mounting that B-5 Lennon might have gone for those more expensive Gibson strings. Some other string brands I can remember using in the 60's were Gretsch, Black Diamond, Gibson and LaBella. I remember bringing my 360/12 back to the store I bought it from in the 60's and the owner convinced me I needed to change strings. He cut the strings off with a wire cutter and replaced them with Gibsons! The guitar played and sounded terrible. I found a set of flat-would LaBella's and the guitar sounded like a Rickenbacker again. That was the only time in four years that I changed strings on the Rickenbacker and I never changed the strings on my Gretsch Tennessean(except possibly the high strings). Those flat-wounds never wore out. Guitar players didn't change strings back then like they do today. You weren't searching for a certain tone in your strings, you were just happy to have six(or twelve) good strings on your guitar.
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Postby (toneman) » Sat Apr 26, 2003 7:17 am

Any guitar and bass string packaged with either "Hofner" or "Selmer" during the fifties thru late sixties was manufactured by Pyramid and distributed through out Europe and the U.K. they were mainly a mulit-wrap flatwound string that's the same as they are made in Bubenreuth today. The company has been under the same family for 150 years. In the late fifties & early sixties round wound strings were considered a cheap & inferior by European manufactures. Pyramid only used the Pyramid name on their orchestral strings(cello, violin, viola, etc.) and some for middle eastern and eastern European instruments in those days.
The flatwounds that were labeled "Gretsch" were made in Germany as well by a small family run/owned business. Sadly, when the father died the rest of the family had no desire to continue making strings and the business closed. They were made in the same fashion as Pyramid. Almost all European made flatwound strings were made the same way and with the same pure nickle wrap materials. Maxima, who made the old red box Rickenbacker Electro Strings were made in the same way.
Gibson Sonomatic's were much different in the early sixties than what they later became. Early Sonomatic's were a flatwound type string and didn't change until the late sixties. Have have a couple boxes of them around here someplace in my box of acient strings...
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Postby (larrywassgren) » Sat Apr 26, 2003 6:43 pm

Now that we've had our Pyramid commercial again, who can really say what year, month, day, performance..........etc., The Beatles were playing strings that were made in Bubenreuth, Germany?
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